Saturday, November 26, 2005

Origins of Fascism in a Denial of Smithian Markets

Roderick T. Long gave a talk at Ludwig von Mises Institute Conference on Fascism, 7-8 October and this is reported at Roderick Long teaches philosophy at Auburn University and is editor of
The Journal of Libertarian Studies. I recommend it to anybody interested in politics and governance.

Among his many interesting comments this paragraph caught my notice:

The partnership between the official state apparatus and the nominally private beneficiaries of state power was a familiar theme for 19th-century libertarians like Frédéric Bastiat and Gustave de Molinari, who extended and radicalized Adam Smith's critique of mercantilist protectionism as a scheme for benefiting concentrated business interests at the expense of the general public.”

This set off a train of thought. One of Smith’s trenchant German critics was Frederic List (mid-19th century) whose main complaint was that he perceived in Smith’s “Wealth of Nations” not a critique of mercantile political economy but a hypocritical message about free trade which was, he believed, a determined ‘plan’ of the English (sic) commercial class and government to pursue policies that would enrich England at the expense of the rest of the world by subjecting them to economic policies in favour of England. Even absolute and comparative advantage theories (Smith and Ricardo) were nationalist devices to cheat the gullible into trade treaties with England that would ruin them and make them dependents rather than partners.

What is significant about these rants (there is no other word for it) was that List advocated that the several states of divided Germany should unite to emulate the same policies he ascribed to Smith as a means of enriching a new German State and making it a world power. Reading from the vantage point of 20th century experience we can see in List the early signs of a German nationalism already groaning under the psychic burdens of imagined grievances that fuelled the rampant nationalism of the Nazis in the early 20th century.

Smith’s critique of mercantile political economy was not a sham; it was sincerely held, and Smith had no conceptions of a rampant nationalism ascribed to him by List. Fascist political economy imbibing ‘corporatism’ (the authentic voice of Mussolini’s version) had no affinity with Smithian markets and his insistence of Natural Liberty.

Statism in all its forms, from 19th century socialists through Marxist communism and fascism and the demented version in Hitler’s National Socialism, are the absolute denial of free markets, international trade, open economies, liberty. Smithian markets are anathema to nationalism in any of its forms from the malign to the malignant.


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